This is the journey of a man who is the father of two daughters. One, his oldest, had Borderline Personality Disorder. His youngest daughter does not.
All names have been changed at the request of the writer.
Where to begin. Perhaps at the beginning at about 10:00 p.m. at Mary Immaculate Hospital located in Queens, NY. It was May 14, 1975. “Joan” arrived after a difficult and induced labor. My new wife Marg was 18.
Joan came into our lives 24 years ago. It was a difficult birth, but not extraordinary. Of course this is so easy to say because I was not the one heaving with labor pains or pushing my guts out.
Perhaps we should have known that Joan was not going to be an easy child. But she was the first and we were young and full of energy. I certainly had no clue in the early years that “Joan” would bring incredible emotional pain to our lives. I do remember having to get in our old beat up car and drive Joan around the neighborhood before she would fall asleep. But, this was in infancy. She was a colicky baby, but Marg was patient.
The years whirled by and our second daughter Alice was born in 1981. There was some natural jealousy of a 6 year old already on board toward the new arrival. Alice got chicken pox at 3 months old and I followed with a case of adult chicken pox. Alice came away easy in that most of Marg’s immunity protected her from a bad chicken pox experience. Me, well it was a bad two weeks for sure. This is about me to a large extent, and unfortunately so.
No I don’t have BPD. Joan has it. I suffer and Marg suffers. Anne, my six year old granddaughter suffers, Alice suffers. We suffer in different ways and spaces. We suffer the brunt of a daughter, mother, and sister who is often “out to lunch”.
Joan’s world is fantasy and boredom, tattoos and cutting her own flesh (at least we know in her younger years she cut.) We cannot tell now. Joan is unable to deal with reality and lies to herself and everyone else as if her lies can change reality to make it what she wants or needs it to be. I guess it does change Joan’s reality, but not ours. We see much more objectively the terrible toll BPD exerts on Joan’s daughter Anne. It is a double hurt for Marg and I. We watch Joan throw her life away and concurrently watch her screw up her own daughter’s existence.
As if this weren’t enough. We threw Jessica out at 16. Bought a house for her and Anne and Anne’s father to live in. I had to throw them out of the house because they were systematically destroying it. We took Joan and Anne into our home again. The home Joan was thrown out of at 16. And on the saga goes.
I could outline 100 episodes of experiencing her BPD. What good would it do now and here? You all know what I am saying. You know of the push away I hate you and the pull toward you I love you. You know of the magical thinking and fantasy life lived by your own BPD kids. Joan lost her license for 6 months for speeding several years ago. Two of the 3 tickets were in the very same spot. Tell me BPD behavior doesn’t cry out for notice.
What good does it do to tell you Jessica repeats the same behavior over and over again without taking any meaning from the bad outcomes. She has lived with two men, one Anne’s (my granddaughter) father. The other just a bum, from a white trash family. Neither has a driver’s license.
Who can live with garbage all over and cat excrement? Who, in their right mind, could not bathe for more than several days or leave their teeth rot in their own heads? Who could associate with only those with no way to succeed in life. My Joan — a beautiful blond, blue eyed child of slight build–now much heavier — never had a job and blames everyone else for what goes wrong. She never takes responsibility for her own conduct or the very bad choices she consistently makes.
Joan makes me very unhappy and sad. I could have let her go her own way if it were not for Anne. Actually, it was Marg who said we must try to save Anne. I simply had to go along for Marg’s sake. I could have put both Joan and Anne on the mental shelf to protect my own fragile emotional world.
I could have cut them both loose from my world. Oh, I would have paid a large price in guilt. I would sleep better though. I try to live one day at a time and remember not to be too angry about having to raise another child. I wouldn’t mind raising Anne if Joan left us alone to do the right thing.
Counseling you wonder?. Oh sure, we have tried and tried. Joan says there is nothing wrong. She says that she is normal. We are just uppity people who don’t understand her or the downtrodden people she chooses to associate with.
At this point, the bottom line is: Anne, is my granddaughter. I cannot help Joan anymore. I cannot even kiss her goodnight when I leave for work. I can’t stand being around her. I do indeed walk on eggshells and don’t like that feeling when it is my house, my income and my sanity.
I searched high and low all over the internet, in support groups and through research trying to find practical suggestions on how to best grow my granddaughter up with Joan being a Borderline. I would throw Joan out again tomorrow if it were not for Anne.
I’ve been working in state prisons for 18 years. It’s a very tough environment. But I can tell you BPD is much, much tougher to deal with. My wife Marg worked with small children in a daycare setting until a neuropathic injury ruled that occupation out.
Marg handles this BPD situation much better than I do. I am the one who has sought support online.
About My BPD Daughter and Her Daughter
I guess I want Joan to be the perfect parent. Much like the idea of a white picket fence life, a fantasy, I am falsely thinking Joan could and should be the best parent ever.
I am angry that Joan thinks more of herself than her child. I think the child’s needs must always come first. But, then I look at how I have lived my life thus far. I cannot say I put my children first all the time. I know my limitations and have lived by them to a large extent.
I often escape when conflict arises. The escape, years ago, used to be physical. Now my escape is primarily mental. I simply tune out. Why should I expect so much from Joan?
When you become a parent, the primary focus is the child. Concretely speaking, a parent should:
1. Provide the basics of life. Included among these basics are: Clean and wholesome living environment. Plenty of nutritious food. Clean and properly fitting clothes and foot wear. Several play areas i.e.–school playground, backyard, friend’s house. A place for the child to call home (a room, a space, something that is the child’s domain completely. A daily routine that engenders security in knowing what will happen and enough flexibility to adjust to life as it comes. Routine and flexibility will prepare the child for life.
2. Provide basic emotional stability. (which is impossible if the parent is not emotionally stable) Real parental love must show through. Parents must love a child enough to be firm with discipline. Affection must be ongoing. The child must feel valued and wanted. The child must feel secure enough with the parent to separate from the parent. The child must know the parent will always come back. (Much like the early years of peek-a-boo and hide and seek) This idea must take root as the child grows into adulthood.
Eventually, the child must learn the parent is simply another human being with faults, with foibles, with strengths. Balance must be learned. “Moderation in all things” is a hard won battle to learn and abide.
Spouting off is easy. The right words, the ones that sound good, have always come easy for me. Living the words, a far greater challenge. How could I possibly think Joan would be the parent I want her to be? How totally unrealistic to think this could be so. Children don’t come with a book. Marg and I only learned these fancy words over much time and thought parenting–trial and error.
I think what drives me bonkers is not seeing the love expressed for Anne often enough. I don’t see a lot of affection between mother and daughter, but I do see some. When Joan is having a good day, the love and affection towards Anne is more noticeable. The turning away part is difficult to see. You sense when Joan begins that fade out. Then, the big push away. How can a child understand this behavior?
It is hard enough to be a single parent. It is hard enough to raise a child and make the common mistakes so many make. It is even more difficult when you have BPD.
A central conflict for me concerning Joan as parent is my basic idea of parenting. I say this: You must love your child enough to lay down your life for your child. I don’t see this fierceness of purpose in Joan.
One demonstrative way to illustrate this observation is to discuss the ongoing lice infestation problems we have experienced over the last couple of years. You do not keep on exposing your child to known infestation conditions if you love your child.
I have many examples of Joan putting Joan’s needs first rather than Anne’s needs first. This is not to say that the child’s needs must always come first. Balance is key. I think I see too many lapses of motherly love in Anne’s rotted teeth, not knowing how to tie shoelaces, coming home late when Joan wants to be out and than rushing the bath and bedtime routine so Joan can leave again, and more etc.
Where does a parent’s right to some small happiness begin? The fact that Joan leaves for the night to be with her boyfriend is objectively justifiable. Emotionally, I just cannot accept the fact a loving parent would do this. Joan does have a beeper we can ring in an emergency. By the time we contact her, however, we would have had to act on the emergency anyway.
Here is an actual example of what happened in a semi-emergency situation one night. Anne had a terrible episode of projectile vomiting after her mother had left for the night. My brave wife Marg had vomit from head to toe as I ran for the garbage can. Of course, Marg bathed Anne and got her teeth brushed. I took of the bedding and scrubbed the mattress with bleach water. We settled Anne back down and she slept with us for the rest of the night. All this unbeknown to Joan.
What good would it have done to call Joan here? We would have had to supervise her in doing what we already knew and were there to do. So, Joan gets to play while Marg and I get to be parents all over again. And yes, I resent that we are put in this position all the time. If I am going to be a parent, I want full custody to raise the child the way I see fit. Then, I will be a full time parent and tell Joan to leave and stay wherever the hell she wants to except here, at home with Anne.
I AM WORRIED STIFF
The greatest harm can come from the best intentions. If we fought and won custody for Anne, would this really be in Anne’s best interest? I have read that children, no matter how badly they are treated, want to remain with mom. At this point, Joan is not being abusive to Anne — at least during the hours Anne and Joan are home with us.
Would raising Anne be in our best interests? Yes, to alleviate any guilt we feel about what we perceive to be Joan’s parental failures. No from a practical life cycle view. I would like to be less responsible rather than more responsible.
What happens if Anne turns out to be Borderline too or creates very substantial problems like her mother? Then where is the light at the end of the tunnel. I shutter to think I will have to repeat all of the intense emotional pain I went and continue of suffer through with Joan.